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Monday, 7 July 2014
Page: 4237


Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (17:09): Thank you for that instructive effort at class warfare, Senator Cameron. You stand in this place and attack this side of the chamber and the government as if we do not care about low-paid workers. You care more about the spin and the rhetoric, about union memberships and your own slush fund, Senator Cameron, than actually looking at and creating the reform agenda that this nation needs to ensure that our businesses can actually—

Senator Polley: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I ask that the senator retract those comments defaming the senator on this side. She knows very well what she said. I ask you to ask her to withdraw.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Bernardi ): I was not aware that Senator McKenzie said—

Senator Polley: Well, calling, referring—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Just a moment, Senator, you have asked me to make a ruling on words that I have not picked up and that you are refusing to repeat. If you care to—

Senator Polley: I am quite happy to repeat them. She accused the good senator of having a slush fund. I ask her to withdraw that.

Senator Birmingham: On the point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President, the words I heard were the words: 'and your own slush funds, Senator Cameron,' a reference that I took generically to be the Labor Party in general. Indeed, the use of slush funds by unions is being well documented in the media at present—unions that, of course, were run by many of those opposite over the years.

Senator Cameron: On the point of order, I am inclined to raise this point of order on exactly the position that Senator Birmingham's has just raised. The issue of slush funds is an issue that the coalition have lost a frontbencher over, in the last period of time.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: That is no point of order; that is a debating point.

Senator Cameron: The issue of slush funds is something that the coalition have—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, resume your seat. That is a debating point. I am inclined to go with the interpretation of Senator Birmingham that there was a generic reference.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you, very much, Mr Acting Deputy President. This government is about ensuring a reform agenda that allows businesses in Canberra and businesses right around our nation, indeed in regional Australia, to be unshackled to increase their productivity. Senator Cameron is quite happy to quote certain economists. I would like to refer the Senate to Chris Richardson from Deloitte Access Economics and Ross Garnaut who both made comments over the weekend about our lack of productivity and how that has the potential to almost halve the growth in our living standards in this nation. So the government is very, very seriously addressing this issue about increasing the productivity of our businesses. The repeal of red tape is a cornerstone of our approach to ensuring that businesses can hire more Australians so that more Australians can get off welfare and into a job and start providing for their families and contributing. It is not an argument about minimum wages; it is about reducing the regulatory burden to Australian businesses.

On our repeal day we did revoke the Fair Work principles and the associated Commonwealth Cleaning Service Guidelines with effect from 1 July 2014. Repeal day was a good day, and I am disappointed that those opposite are not celebrating the fact that we are unshackling businesses in this nation to ensure that they can hire more workers. The best form of welfare is a job, not just for the money it immediately puts into the back pocket of the workers but also for the example it provides for children and the whole family more generally. Repeal day is an important part of the government's deregulation agenda under which we are seeking to cut $1 billion worth of red and green tape each year. We have designated two parliamentary sitting days as repeal days.

Before I go into the benefits of getting rid of red tape to ensure that businesses, including cleaning contractors, can employ more, let us look at the Fair Work principles that were repealed. They were created by the former government to make cleaning service providers subject to additional workplace relations rules that were outside the mainstream workplace relations and procurement framework. They were created, in a sense, as a concession to United Voice. On so many occasions in this chamber in the recent past we have been subjected to the tussle between the Greens and the left wing of the Labor Party for the hearts and minds of United Voice members.

We remember only too well the other concessions they were given to United Voice, including the $300 million for the Early Years Quality Fund for childcare workers. Who can forget that fabulous arrangement? It was spruiked out there by the then minister as a fund that was going to address the low income and low wages of the child-care workers throughout our nation. But so important were these workers—and the work that they do for families and in educating young people right throughout the nation—to the ALP, that they only set aside enough money for 30 per cent of those lowly paid child-care workers. Only 30 per cent of them could actually access that fund.

I notice that those on the other side of the chamber are quite quiet on that front. They are very happy to go out and grab the first day's headlines on the Early Years Quality Fund but not so happy to actually mop up the mess afterwards. Expectations were raised right throughout the sector with parents and, often, with young women, who were sold a pup. They were sold a pup that this fund was actually going to increase their wages. No-one told them that their membership pact with United Voice—their signing-up as part of their wage increase—was a farce. Only 30 per cent of those in long-day-care centres were ever going to be able to access that wage increase. If they want to come in and peddle the stories about broken dreams and promises, I think that those on the opposite side have more than enough game in this area.

It should come as no surprise that the sop to United Voice—I have spoken briefly about that particular slush fund and the ad hoc arrangements—were undone as part of our repeal day measures, which removed the confusing and cumbersome red tape that suppliers of cleaning contracts were subject to. As we know, the Fair Work Ombudsman already provides significant safeguards in the workplace. There is no reason to have different rules just because a cleaner is working in one government office in a specific location. We have a range of mechanisms in place that already provide strong safeguards. It is not fair that different rules should apply for those who are cleaning offices within a government office as opposed to a bank or private enterprise.

These guidelines were not about pay. As I said earlier, they were about a leg-up for United Voice. The guidelines required that employees be provided with information, by union officials, about joining a union—a free kick, there. The guidelines also had a requirement that union delegates be able to attend all staff inductions—another free kick. And finally, there was the scheduling of employee meetings with union officials. So that is three free kicks to United Voice. I hope it paid off for somebody's pre-selection—that is all I can say.

Senator O'Neill: That's so cynical, Senator.

Senator McKENZIE: Oh, but so true, Senator O'Neill—so true!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Ignore the interjections.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator McKENZIE: I am happy to have that conversation with Senator Lines any time.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator McKenzie, ignore the interjections and address your comments to the chair.

Senator McKENZIE: My apologies, Mr Acting Deputy President. As always, we do not want to let the truth get in the way of a good smear campaign. I think Labor, particularly, has some really great form in this area. They twist the truth. I would like to draw the chamber's attention to another area where the ALP has been out and about—indeed it may even be the same minister as previously, now the shadow minister Kate Ellis. We have seen the ABC's Fact Check on school funding. The smear campaign that the ALP has been conducting about this particular aspect of policy, right throughout the nation, is erroneous. I would like to point Senator O'Neill particularly to check out the ABC Fact Check of Wednesday, 2 July 2014. It is free to a good home. There is some good reading in there. I think she will appreciate being availed of the facts of the smear campaign that the ALP has been conducting on behalf of the AEU over a number of months.

But I have digressed significantly from my outlining of the importance of removing regulatory burden for Australian businesses so they can get on with the business of hiring more Australians and addressing the productivity—the almost bankruptcy—of this country. Why is a deregulation agenda important? It is important because, in the five years from mid-2007, Australia's multifactor productivity declined by nearly three per cent. As I mentioned earlier, Chris Richardson and Ross Garnaut have already made reference to the importance of addressing the productivity issues throughout our economy.

The Productivity Commission has estimated that regulation compliance costs could amount to as much as four per cent of Australia's GDP. We heard so often through the carbon tax debates over the past few years, 'Oh, it is only one per cent', but add all that up and it is people's jobs on the line. To those opposite who deal in vagaries and ideologies, and who do not actually understand the real impact of one per cent on a business's bottom line, it means that it is fewer people that they can employ. At the end of the day, the difference between those on this side of the chamber and those on the other side of the chamber in our views on how best to address the challenges for our nation is that those on this side of the chamber will ensure that we have an economic system that ensures our egalitarian principles—and the principles of equity and fairness that have underpinned this nation for over 100 years—continue, because we will have a sustainable economic position on which to base those policy decisions, unlike the recklessness of those opposite.

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator McKENZIE: Senator Polley, go for it. I am happy to entertain, at any time!